It’s my favorite time of the year, when opinions clash over what game should and shouldn’t win inconsequential award shows, and when the anticipation for next year’s inevitable disappointments is still in unchecked levels of hype mode. Your favorites are my favorites and my favorites are your favorites, or some such nonsense. Ignore all that. I’m here to tell you what I enjoyed the most from the thousands or so games I managed to play in these last 365 days. (And by thousands, I mean probably 20 or 30, because as we all know, you can’t have a “complete” list unless you’ve played every single game, right internet?)
So, let’s get right to it, shall we?
10. The Darkness II
The original Darkness is one of my top five games of all time, so let’s be clear about this: there was little chance The Darkness II was going to surpass it. The removal of Kirk Acevedo as the voice of Jackie Estacado, and the shift in developers to a more dubious group of individuals set some pretty low standards for this game. But as it turned out, The Darkness II was a respectful continuation of that story that I love so much. And while the ending felt fairly rushed, and the game’s campaign was on the short end, the improvements to gameplay and Mike Patton’s incomparable return as the titular character secure The Darkness II at the tenth spot on my list.
9. The Last Story
Nintendo’s pun-friendly console refuses to die. Last year’s Monolith Soft’s Wii exclusive Xenoblade Chronicles managed to sneak its way up to the second place on my list, and this year, Mistwalker’s The Last Story finds itself on the back-end of my picks. Hironobu Sakaguchi’s love letter to the Japanese Role-Playing Game evokes memories of his first classic, the original Final Fantasy. With no shortage of obvious similarities in title, The Last Story is memorable mostly for its endearing and evolving cast of characters. Sure, the story is fairly typical and the combat is on the frustrating side of complex, but this ragtag group of individuals is one of the most genuine bunch you’ll likely find in any game this year.
8. Assassin’s Creed III
Ubisoft had a tough act to follow after their three-game epic starring Ezio Auditore da Firenze. And while Connor doesn’t exactly meet his ancestor’s charm or charisma, he definitely has the heart. Assassin’s Creed III’s thoughtful take on the American Revolution expands on the time-traveling wizardry of series protagonist Desmond Miles, while also setting up inevitable sequels in the best way Ubisoft Montreal knows how: cliff-hangers. Though the game was marred by a number of bugs, the struggle of Connor and Achilles, and the bonds formed with your Homestead inhabitants are things I’ll remember most fondly.
7. The Walking Dead
Few things can claim total multi-media domination like The Walking Dead. This long-standing comic series-turned-tv-show-turned-video-game franchise has become a household name in the last year alone. Telltale Games’s five-part saga about a convicted murderer, an orphaned child, and a number of other stranded survivors during the zombie apocalypse managed to do something that so many games of a similar endeavor fail at: it treated its source material with respect. Adaptations of licensed products often end miserably, with few exceptions. The Walking Dead series of adventure games is probably (no, definitely) the best use of a licensed property.
6. Far Cry 3
Massive island to explore; intelligent enemy and wildlife AI; the creativity to play how you want to; and one of the most fascinating villains in recent years; Far Cry 3 is everything good and just about shooters and open world games. Ubisoft brings the series back to its former tropical glory and shows us just what’s in store for the genre in the years to come. When you get tired of playing your standard run-and-gun military shooter or your 700th round of team deathmatch, take a trip down to the Pacific.
5. Spec Ops: The Line
From a shooter willing to push the genre further, to one content to stay in the past. The strange irony is, for Spec Ops: The Line, it needs to feel like your average run of the mill war simulator. That’s the point. Where every other shooter of its ilk glorifies the art of war and killing, Spec Ops demonizes it, makes you question the value and entertainment of it. The genius minds at Yager Deveolpment sought to create a character so conflicted with his ideals about upholding justice and peace, while at the same time feeling overwhelmed by the immense prowess that he exhibits. This bold retelling of Joseph Conrad’s classic novel Heart of Darkness finds its hero, Martin Walker, in search of his own Colonel Kurtz – a once-revered war hero named John Konrad. The result is a game that treats its subject matter with the utmost respect and shows us that war is not a game, and one’s descent into darkness can lead men to do terrible, unimaginable things. Just remember: white phosphorus.
4. X-COM: Enemy Unknown
Oh, how I hate you, X-COM. And yet I love you so. You’re the abusive spouse in my relationship, the one I can’t stand to be around but I’m too afraid to leave. Every second I spent with you was wonderful agony. I lost many friends because of you, whose names are now etched into the hull of my underground headquarters. I vanquished much alien scum, shot down hundreds of UFOs, and researched countless projects. I even fought alongside the legendary Sid Meier in a few battles. I will never forget you, X-COM. But please, stop killing all of my units.
3. Max Payne 3
Max, dearest of all my friends. Rockstar did the unthinkable. They shaved your head. “Doomed!” was Max Payne, they said. They of little faith. You showed them, didn’t you? Unmatched physics, spectacular attention to detail, and the same soul-crushing feeling of self-guilt you were always known for. Sure, you may have toned down a bit on the long-winded analogies, but hey, you’re getting older. I understand. You’ll always have a place on my shelf, Max.
2. Rift: Storm Legion
On first consideration, I didn’t think to include this on my list. It’s just an expansion, after all. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how irrelevant that sounded. Besides, there’s nothing else on this list (either individually or combined) that I’ve put more hours into besides Storm Legion. They say MMOs are a drug, well let me tell you: they’re heroine. Trion’s sophomore launch didn’t go off without a hitch (unlike the release of the base game last year), but the expansion’s pound-for-pound value make it one of the most jam-packed content updates I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in a long time. With more than triple the size of new real estate, a dozen new dungeons (either raid or party sized), more levels and classes, and the best player housing system seen in any MMO period, Storm Legion is a rousing success.
1. Dragon’s Dogma
You know a game is good when it tries its hardest to make you hate it, and you just can’t. Enter Dragon’s Dogma. Not since Deadly Premonition have I seen a game with such a conflicted sensibility about itself. On one hand, Dogma is a sprawling action epic with hundreds of exciting monsters to kill and miles and miles of land to explore. It has a tremendously diverse class system that allows you to mix and match traits from each one, and one of the most ingenious uses of passive multiplayer I have ever seen. And yet, on the other hand, the game’s quests system was archaic, the amount of on-foot traveling through well-ventured areas was borderline insulting, and the pacing hit a major lull in the second act. Despite this, if there’s one thing I’m most looking forward to seeing more of in the years to come, it’s Dragon’s Dogma. With some major refinements, this potential series could find its way up to my pantheon of RPGs inhabited only by a special few: Final Fantasy Tactics, Demon’s Souls, and Dark Souls. On a final note, Dragon’s Dogma has one of the most thrilling final boss battles – ever. (No, not the Seneschal. The other one).
Notable Absence: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition
I wanted to include this on my list. I really did. Anyone who knows me personally knows I’d give Dark Souls “Sports Game of the Year” if I could. But as I considered it, I realized it would be unfair to the 10 games I did select to have to remove one of them to make way for a game I had already named as my favorite game of the year back in 2011. Though the Prepare to Die edition offers enough content on its own to merit some sort of recognition, the game, as a whole, was still merely a port to the PC with the inclusion of the downloadable content. In any case, there’s always Dark Souls II.